Which of the two should Filipinos demand more? This somewhat rhetorical question popped into my mind when I came across this article depicting yet another one of our country’s tantrums towards the foreigners. Recently, District of Columbia Councilmember Marion Barry earned the ire of the Philippine embassy for allegedly being racist towards our Filipino nurses working abroad.
The Philippine embassy in Washington D.C. has denounced a recent remark made by District of Columbia Councilmember Marion Barry, criticizing local hospitals for hiring Filipino nurses.
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia has demanded Barry to apologize to Filipino nurses for his “deplorable” remark.
According to a Washington Post report, the Councilmember was quoted as saying he wanted more District residents from Columbia to become nurses so hospitals don’t have to rely on “immigrants” from the Philippines.
Here is an excerpt of what Marion Barry said, something that made Ambassador Cuisia, together with the embassy, yell racism over the councilmember.
“In fact, it’s so bad, that if you go to the hospital now, you’ll find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines. And, no offense, but let’s grow our own nurses, so that we don’t have to be scrounging around in our community clinics and other kinds of places, having to hire people from somewhere else,” he said.
Cuisia remarked that Barry was being “intolerant” and “narrow-minded.” He then proceeded to defend the allegedly oppressed nurses.
“Councilmember Barry’s penchant for blaming Asians, who only want to work for their American dream, fuels racism, discrimination, and violence. He owes Filipino nurses an apology for his recent tirade,” the ambassador said.
Cuisia also argued that it was thanks to our labor market that global healthcare market is kept afloat, away from a looming nursing shortage. Furthermore,
“Filipino nurses are known to be competent, hardworking, caring, and possess good work ethic. These are some of the reasons why most patients prefer and trust them. Like many good citizens, they pay their taxes and contribute to the American economy,” Cuisia pointed out.
Now, Councilmember Barry claimed that he was quoted out of context and that he was only stating a fact, but that’s not really important to the discussion I want to instigate. Barry was also involved in other issues that involve racism which constantly tarnish his reputation, but it isn’t really relevant to what I intend to say either. What I want to emphasize is something that logically follows from what he said; our economic setup is unstable, and most probably unsustainable.
First and foremost, I fail to see anything racist in what he said. As far as the quote is concerned, he didn’t even insult the nurses to begin with. What worries him, however, is how US is increasingly dependent on Filipino nurses, to the point that their own labor market is somehow being compromised. The Filipino nurses are not at fault and must not be blamed nor insulted; and no one did such thing. Barry was concerned about the internal economy of the US regarding its own labor market, not the competence of our nurses.
There was no need for Cuisia to suddenly lash out at Barry and defend the nurses by praising them (although I do not have issues with nurses being praised). There was no need to announce that nurses pay their taxes religiously and that they are law-abiding citizens. In the process, Cuisia, together with the Philippine embassy, is simply showing, once again, how sensitive we can be when foreigners talk, to the point that we react harshly when we are not even supposed to in the first place.
But there is something far more important in this issue, and this Barry inadvertently revealed; our nurses’ jobs are not secure. In fact, should foreign governments decide to do so, a number of them can lose their jobs and be deported back to this country (a drastic protectionist policy), and we can do nothing about it. Foreign countries within the context of the bill of rights have the power to manage their respective labor, and that includes the tenure of our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
This shows the sheer instability of our economic setup. OFWs, whose remittances constitute much of our foreign exchange reserves which is majorly responsible for keeping our economy afloat, is practically at the mercy of foreign labor policies. We do not hold any power to tell foreign governments to continue accepting OFWs if they do not want to. Heck, we can’t even stop the Chinese government from executing the unfortunate Filipino drug mules. This is something that we Filipinos, together with the current administration, should deeply think about.
If sending people abroad is the only way to economic prosperity, then every single country in the world should have its respective battalions of overseas workers. Yet so far, most of the people who work abroad are Filipinos. Why is this so? A more important question to be addressed is; how can we cope up if the rest of the world decided to abstain from accepting our labor exports so they can develop their own workers? Know that much of our economy is anchored to OFWs. Isn’t this a ghastly scenario? Doesn’t this make you want to ask our government; are you doing something about our heavily OFW-dependent economy?
Perhaps people should demand fewer apologies from foreign entities to satisfy their egos and demand more from the government. Convince the administration to manage the country’s market structure in such a way that businesses, which are the ones who can produce real jobs, can easily be established. Have the government construct a business-friendly environment that can inspire a healthy competition, which in turn will give jobs to Filipinos, making the notion of going abroad to get a job unnecessary. The government can do so much, if it only has the initiative to really help our dedicated workers gain access to jobs without sacrificing physical familial ties.
Finally, perhaps Filipinos should also demand more from themselves. Dare to question the system; why are there OFWs? Why are they going outside the country instead of staying here? Is it just because they’re in demand in other countries? Or is it because they have no choice but to leave, since there are hardly any decent-paying jobs in this country? What can we do about it? Should we take note of our current market structure?
Filipinos can take the likes of Barry as nothing more than racists; people who deliberately demean our society. After all, doing so is remarkably easy. Or they can take such people as signals; signals telling us that we might have to do something about how things are flowing in our economy, instead of babysitting our egos and crying racism over foreign individuals.
Apology or reform; which of the two should Filipinos demand more?